BOULDER: Republican presidential hopefuls traded bald attacks in their third primary debate, with frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson facing intense criticism for peddling “fantasy” economic policies.
The party’s third primary debate, less than 100 days before the first statewide nominating contests, also saw Jeb Bush breathe fire toward a former ally, telling Marco Rubio he should resign from the Senate if he kept skipping votes while running for president.
The 10 White House candidates on stage were quick with the personal barbs, sign of the rising tension between the country’s established politicians and political neophytes who currently top the polls in the race for 2016.
“Folks, we got to wake up,” Ohio Governor John Kasich said, shaking his head.
“We cannot elect somebody that doesn’t know how to do the job. You have to pick somebody who has experience.”
The language appeared clearly aimed at Trump, a real estate billionaire, and the retired neurosurgeon Carson, who were the targets of early brickbats as candidates ripped into their policy plans.
Kasich said both Trump’s and Carson’s tax plans were “fantasy tax games” that would cost the country trillions of dollars.
Even the debate moderator joined in, asking Trump at the outset if he was running a “comic book version” of a campaign — notably by promising to keep out immigrants with a wall on the Mexican border.
Trump’s pushback was tame compared to his retorts in earlier debates.
“You can have him,” he sneered of Kasich.
Millions of Americans were estimated to be tuning in to the sparring at an arena at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
As traditional candidates struggle to make headway against strong populist currents in their party, Carson appears to be catching up to Trump, overtaking him in the state of Iowa, and edging ahead of him in one national poll released Tuesday.
With his star rising, Carson came under pressure to expand on his political platforms.
The hyper-competitive Trump — facing a slippage in his poll ratings — seemed determined to reaffirm his position atop the Republican pyramid on Wednesday.
But with all eyes on the frontrunning pair, other candidates vied for the camera.
Bush, the son and brother of two presidents and a former Florida governor launched a frontal attack on his former protege Rubio, something he has been loath to do on the campaign trail.
“This is a six-year term, you should be showing up,” he told Rubio, who hails from the same state. “Is it a French work week? You get three days to show up. Just resign and let somebody else take the job.”
Ten candidates took the stage for the main event: Trump, Carson and Bush; Senators Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul; former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, who performed well at the previous debate; Arkansas ex-governor Mike Huckabee; Kasich and Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Cable network CNBC, which is broadcasting the prime time event, focused its debate on economic issues, including tax policy, federal spending and job growth.
Four candidates, all polling at one percent or less, kicked off the evening with an undercard debate, sparring over taxes, job and entitlements and highlighting core conservative principles.
Signalling he might be out of step with today’s Republicans, Senator Lindsey Graham repeated his openness to immigration reform as a weapon against the Democrats in 2016.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he supported companies providing paid family leave and raising wages, “but the government can’t wave a magic wand and make that happen.”
Trump is leading the RealClearPolitics average of opinion polls, with 26.8 percent, with Carson in second (22.0), Rubio third (9.0 percent), Bush (7.0) and Cruz (6.6).